Bale keeps Spurs on course for Champions League

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Tottenham stayed in contention for Champions League action next season after beating Southampton 1-0 in the Premier League on Saturday with Gareth Bale scoring against his former club in the 86th minute.

After being marked out of much of the game, the 23-year-old Welshman found space 25 yards out, picked the ball off substitute Lewis Holtby and unleashed a trademark long-range strike which beat the outstretched Artur Boruc.

The goal at White Hart Lane brought Bale's tally for the season to 30 - double his previous best. It also meant English football's player of the year became the first person for Tottenham since Jurgen Klinsmann to register 20 league goals in a season.

In the fight for top-four spots in the Premier League, Tottenham and Chelsea are two points behind third-placed Arsenal which won at QPR 1-0. Chelsea visits Manchester United on Sunday.

Southampton deserved at least a point from the game.

Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had tipped Rickie Lambert's free kick in the first half on to a post, and the Saints dominated most of the game, which started 30 minutes late due to fans being delayed by a chemical spillage on the M25 motorway.

Tottenham started brightly, going on the attack from the first whistle. Jermain Defoe almost opened the scoring in the fifth minute when he drove into the side-netting.

The home side's high line left them vulnerable, though, and Southampton took full advantage.

Lambert sent Nathaniel Clyne through in the 10th minute with a clever chip, but the right-back hammered a volley inches wide from 10 yards.

Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas spent the opening 20 minutes on his feet, frantically motioning to his team.

Southampton broke again through Lambert, who fed Guly Do Prado, but his pull-back was cut out by Michael Dawson before Jay Rodriguez could tap in.

Rodriguez went close from the resulting corner as Southampton continued to press.

Defoe offered a glimmer of hope when he raced past Jos Hooiveld, but Jose Fonte came to the rescue with a brilliant sliding tackle. With just over half an hour gone, Tottenham's chances of victory took a blow when Mousa Dembele hobbled off with an injury to be replaced by Holtby.

Villas-Boas shifted Bale out to the left flank, but he was still being stifled by tight marking. His only first-half contribution was a stoppage-time header which sailed well over Boruc's goal.

Southampton remained on top in the opening stages of the second half.

A long-range free-kick from Lambert whistled past Lloris' left-hand post while Kyle Walker denied Rodriguez with a crucial header.

Villas-Boas looked to Emmanuel Adebayor for inspiration, the Togolese coming on for an injured Aaron Lennon with half an hour left.

Tottenham still failed to test the Southampton goalkeeper, though. Clint Dempsey got on the end of Adebayor's knock-down, but blazed over.

Villas-Boas changed things around again by introducing Gylfi Sigurdsson for Dempsey with 20 minutes left.

Boruc offered Tottenham a way in soon after when he flapped at Tom Huddlestone's cross, but Jan Vertonghen's header was cleared off the line. Spurs thought the ball struck a Southampton hand, but referee Mark Clattenburg waved play on.

The hosts' hopes of salvaging a win looked to be slipping away until the 86th minute, when Bale collected the ball off Holtby and fired a 25-yard shot past a sprawling Boruc.

?Bale had said earlier this week that he would mute his celebration out of respect to his former club, but in the event he could not resist, racing over to the corner.

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